While drag performances might be associated with nightclub parties and boozy brunches, a few Binghamton-based queens have brought the art form to a more unexpected setting: a children’s story hour.
On Sunday, Oct. 20, the Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Binghamton in Vestal hosted its first installment of Drag Queen Story Hour, a worldwide project that encourages drag queens to serve their local schools, community centers and libraries with independently run story-time events.
Drag queen and JCC employee Peaches Eclair, who organized the event, has previously hosted drag brunches at the JCC, the proceeds of which partially support Identity, a local LGBTQ youth center. Eclair, who has been doing drag for two years and has known the other participating queens for years prior, said youth outreach is an exciting new focus and an opportunity to showcase the JCC’s other resources for children.
“The fact that I have this huge platform and can bring in all this positivity energy, I love that,” Eclair said.
The event was free and open to the public. Drag queens India Bombay, Katrina, DeDe Kupps, Dusty Boxx, Paris LuRux and Eclair, some dressed like popular children’s characters, took the stage in colorful costume to read to a crowd of families. Kupps, who read Ian and Sarah Hoffman’s “Jacob’s New Dress,” prefaced the story by giving out some rainbow stickers and explaining what the symbol meant.
“What we all have to learn to do is love each other,” Kupps said. “That’s what today’s all about, right?”
LuRux, who has experience working with children as a teacher and water safety instructor, read “Something Special” by David McPhail. She said she felt the book would be relatable to a young audience.
“I feel like kids are very much like, ‘Oh, my older brother or sister is doing something, so I want to do it,’ and when they’re not good at it, they get kind of down on themselves,” she said. “So [the book] was very much like, ‘What can you do that’s special to you and that makes you unique?’ and that’s what I really liked about it.”
Boxx, who read “My Friend Has Down Syndrome” by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos, said she chose the book for its message of inclusivity.
“I chose the book I read because I think it’s important to use our platform to stand up for people who are different and to bring love, diversity and acceptance to our community,” she said.
Gina Hernandez, 29, of Vestal, brought two children to the event and said she appreciated the stories that were chosen.
“We had a really good time,” Hernandez said. “The stories that everybody picked were really good stories about inclusivity and being different and being special, so it was nice for both [my children] to hear stories that centered around those themes.”
A drag queen story hour held at the Broome County Public Library in January 2018 made state news after facing backlash from Facebook users. Events across the nation have elicited similar responses, prompting protests, counterprotests and social media debates.
LuRux said responses to the JCC’s event, which was her first experience with the program, have been positive.
“I love the community and the atmosphere of things like this,” she said. “It was so fun, especially with it being my first one. The fact that it was well received and everyone was so loving and humble about the situation, it was so good to walk into.”
Eclair, who hopes to hold the JCC’s next Drag Queen Story Hour this spring, most likely in March or April, said the queens themselves serve as models of confidence for both children and adults.
“They show acceptance, they show love and it’s [a] new experience, so for kids, they’re like sponges and they absorb anything, so if they see somebody up there who’s comfortable, who knows who they are and is accepting and loving, they’ll take that into consideration, and then they’ll start showing that as well,” she said. “It’s funny how you can see reactions with new experiences even with adults. When they try something new, they’ll remember it later and they won’t be as timid or scared, or look at it in a different way, so I’m all for new experiences.”
Boxx said she hopes to set an example that previous generations might not have had.
“I wanted to participate in this event because when I was little, no one told me I could grow up to be whatever I want to be,” she said. “I’m here to show these kids that it doesn’t matter if you’re different, if you’re weird, if you’re picked on — it’s all of our differences that make us all the same.”